Since my son’s initial diagnosis of verbal apraxia three years ago, I have cried three times a year. This usually occurs around evaluations, meetings, and one other random moment in time when I realize how much my boy struggles to do something the rest of us take for granted. As he gets older I have even more reason to feel concerned for my son; the difference between the way he speaks and others speak is becoming noticeable to him and to others. Up until now I had the pleasure of letting my son remain ignorant to his disability. He knew he needed help with speech but did not know the magnitude of his diagnosis. His friends found him difficult to understand but they thought he was speaking a different language; I laughed at this, relieved they did not know the truth. The truth would leave him vulnerable to the cruelty that inevitably exists in childhood. Recently he asked how other people are able to speak and I can no longer deny his differences.
However there is a bright side to his recent awareness of his disability; an increased level of maturity and determination that will allow him to retain more of what he learns and a perseverance that will enable him overcome this hurdle.
Entering elementary school means no more early intervention with speech therapists coming to the home. Speech services will be given during the school day and follow a different set of rules and policies. Anticipating these changes and possible challenges caused a lot of anxiety for me as the school year approached. The first two years of school are crucial for a child with verbal apraxia. My son must master the necessary skills to speak clearly. This means extremely hard work on his end and a lot of support from family, teachers, and therapists. I spoke with each teacher before school started. I shared his strengths with them as well as his needs. I did not want them to overlook his intelligence because they would not always understand what he was saying. I was ready to fight to ensure he received ample speech services during the school day but fortunately I did not have to. The therapist assigned to him recognized his disability immediately. It is a strange feeling to be happy when someone confirms your child has serious needs in any one area, but it is a necessary evil. His needs have to be recognized in order to be met. He now receives five days of one on one speech services and we are given regular exercises to do with him at home; something I wish we had throughout his years in early intervention. I have regular communication with his teachers and meet with his speech therapist weekly. We are lucky this year to be working with a team that truly sees what a special boy we have. They are charmed by his hazel eyes and contagious smile and aware of his intellectual and creative ability; they truly see the whole package. I can only hope the next few years we continue to be this fortunate.
I once compared verbal apraxia to having a head trauma that results in difficulty speaking. Recently I read an article about verbal apraxia using this same comparison. I am not sure why seeing it in print bothered me so much but the reality of something not functioning right in my child’s brain was enough to make me cry a fourth time. In a strange way though this comparison offers hope. Many patients who suffer speech loss through a head injury are able to regain their ability. It is a long, difficult, and frustrating process but they do find their voices, and with continued hard work and our loving support so will our little boy.
Helping Your Child Feel Better About Their Differences
If you have a child with any kind of disability there are a few things you can do to help your child feel better about his differences:
- Find his strengths and use them to help him gain confidence. Despite my sons difficulty speaking he is very social and physically active. He has been swimming since he was three and is excelling in this sport. He also has many friends and we make every effort to have play dates and participate in extracurricular activities.
- Teach your child that everyone has something they struggle with. I am a reading tutor and my son sees me working with other children who have difficulty reading. It shows him that he is not the only one that needs extra help in certain areas.
- Do not be afraid to make your child work hard, as long as you are doing it in a loving way it will only help him in the end. I make my son correct his words when spoken wrong. I tell him when I cannot understand him so that he realizes he always has to be aware of his sounds and how to make them more clear. I believe in him and by making him work up to his ability I am proving this to him.